News / Africa

Somalia’s Insurgents Turn Ivory into Big Export Business

A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of ivory tusks discovered at the Port of Mombasa in July 9, 2013.
A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of ivory tusks discovered at the Port of Mombasa in July 9, 2013.
William Eagle
The African Union’s increased military presence in Somalia has recently succeeded in as many as a dozen communities once held by al-Shabab, the al-Qaida affiliate seeking to create an Islamist state in the Horn of Africa.  
 
Al-Shabab’s years-long Somalia insurgency has been funded by various enterprises, including massive exports of charcoal to the Middle East. But in 2010, Andrea Crosta of the non-profit Elephant Action League began hearing rumors of al-Shabab’s well-organized ivory purchase and export operation. Two years later, Crosta and an Israeli colleague, Nir Kaldron, hired a translator and began a year-long inquiry centered in Nairobi.
 
“We started these investigations mostly under cover,” says Crosta. “We met dozens and dozens of people, poachers, small traffickers, big traffickers, even ex-warlords, mostly connected to Somali society both in Kenya and Somalia. And slowly we built this very worrying puzzle. And we understood that al-Shabab rightfully started a great opportunity.”
 
Crosta and Kaldron slowly gained the confidence of many involved in an illicit trade that extends throughout the region. They secretly recorded conversations about al-Shabab’s trafficking operations. The investigations revealed the carefully defined business perspective of an organization that has waged war against western and democratic influences in the Horn of Africa.
 
Rebels discover a good business opportunity
 
“They understood, of course, that the price was rising and rising in Asia and the demand was, well, so there was a great business opportunity,” says Crosta. “And they started to act as buyers, basically.
 
Andrea Crosta describes al-Shabab's ivory commerce, and more
Andrea Crosta describes al-Shabab's ivory commerce, and morei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
 
“Unlike other armed groups and terrorist groups in Africa involved with poaching, al-Shabab does not really poach the elephant, kill the elephant. They act as buyers, as very good buyers.
 
“Slowly, we understood there were about one to three tons of ivory getting onto Somali through al-Shabab every month, so we are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars in profits every month.”
 
  • Somalia's Islamist jihadists emerged as merchants in the illegal trade of elephant ivory from the Horn of Africa, according to undercover investigators. Surrounded by well-armed bodyguards for a 2008 press conference, spokesman Sheik Muktar Robow Abu Mansur vowed increased attacks against a struggling goverment force and its foreign supporters.
     
  • A Kenya Wildlife Service officer tests the weight of an elephant tusk at a display of more than 140 confiscated pieces of ivory outside the Port of Mombasa's police station on July 9, 2013. Shabab continues to smuggle large quantities of ivory by dhow to larger vessels anchored off Kenya's and Somalia's coasts.
  • Al-Shabaab fighters brandish surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry during an Octoer, 2010 miliary exercise in Mogadishu. In addition to illicit ivory sales, Shabab has been financing their war against the western-backed government with charcoal exports to the Gulf Arab states with sales that have been banned by the United Nations.
  • Kenya security stand guard over Tang Yong Jian, a Chinese national who pleaded guilty in the dock of the Makadara Law courts in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, January 28, 2014. Tang, 40, was arrested at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport in Nairobi trying to smuggle 3.4 kilograms of raw ivory to Giuangzhou, China. His punishment was $233,000 or seven years in prison.
  • Much of Shabab's ivory trades is centered in Kenya. In 2102 the World Wildlife Fund invited religious leaders of many faiths in Kenya to gathered at the site of a previous government burning of elephant tusks to pray for an end to the slaughter.
     

As the African Union military mission to drive the militants out of Somalia gains momentum, they shut down the insurgency’s access to major ports. But al-Shabab has demonstrated an ability to adapt. They buy ivory and rhino horns from Kenya and neighboring central African countries. They ship the tusks from variety of ports by skiff to Iranian, Korean and Chinese ships anchored in the Indian Ocean. Some skiffs even originate, Crosta says, in ports AU-controlled areas on the coast and even in Kenya.
 
“They just had to readjust themselves logistically because they still control a large part of the Somali countryside and the traffic is still going on. They just use different ports and exit points.”
 
Their trafficking chain many helping hands
 
“Do not forget,” Crosta says, “they also have a lot of power also in Kenya and it is connected to a lot of businessmen and traffickers who actually provide funds for al-Shabab. So, even ivory collected in Kenya and then leaving Kenya from the Mombasa port, for example, might be connected to al-Shabab.”
 
The league’s report was published in spring of 2013, but didn’t receive much attention until after the devastating al-Shabab attack on the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi last year that took the lives of more than 60 civilians.
 
More recently, Crosta founded a whistle-glower organization to encourage improved intelligence-gathering on poaching in many countries. However, Crosta says he has also gained a wider perspective on problems created by poaching and efforts to contain it.
 
“Everybody is talking, of course, about elephants,” Crosta says. “You might talk about rangers dying sometimes, but actually the human toll is much, much wider. It is about rangers, it’s about thousands of poachers losing their lives every year, leaving behind very large families with orphans and widows. And now you also have armed gangs and terrorist groups and the human toll of the ivory trade.”
 
Too many victims to count
 
Crosta is concerned also about the larger economic and political tendencies that perpetuate poaching and the consequences for the communities that surround Africa’s poorly protected game reserves. The puzzle Crosta talks about now is more complex than identifying who is killing Africa’s elephants. While poachers may be viewed as predators, Crosta asks that the public look more closely at the Africans who kill these animals.
 
The Elephant Action League wants to call attention to the widespread human devastation.
 
“You have armed gangs of very dangerous person but you and you have poor local people,” he says. “One elephant with nice pair of tusks represents a few years of salary for someone who has no salary and maybe 10 people waiting at home for him.  So you can imagine the temptation.
 
“It is also about them. It is about widows, it’s about orphans, it’s about children who become child soldiers, about officers and judges getting bribed. It’s about the weapon that is bought to kill an elephant and is later used to rob a bank. It’s about a lot.”
 
Tanzania’s rangers stray from their target
 
In Tanzania, where poachers have killed large numbers of elephants, an all-out anti-poaching crackdown called Operation Terminate last year resulted in a sharp reduction in elephant kills: only two elephants died. But the wildlife success led to monumental political failures and the kind of lawlessness and human

But the moral cost was high as security units operating under a shoot-to-kill policy were accused of killings, torture and rape during the anti-poaching campaign. A parliamentary inquiry revealed the murder of 13 civilians, arrests of over 1,000 people and other abuses by members of the operation, which included soldiers, policemen, game rangers and forestry officers.
 
President Jakaya Kikwete sacked four top ministers and asked for foreign governments’ guidance on a better way to save the wildlife they depend on for much-needed tourism revenues.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs